Recently, I was interviewed by Indian Currents magazine on the role of Independent College Counselors in today’s world of admissions. Here is a transcript of that interview.
I was happy to answer Kamini’s questions because these are often the ones I get asked by prospective students and their parents. The world of college admissions has gotten much more complicated than when I applied to college many years ago. High school college counselors are busy and overworked.
I like to say, if parents could do the work of helping their own kids navigate the college process, I would be out of a job!
So here’s what I said to answer Kamini’s questions:
1. What does private college counseling entail?
When someone asks me what I do, I say that I help students realize their dreams. What does this mean? It means helping them succeed in school and get in to where they want to go. It means helping them make choices about the courses they take, the extra-curricular activities in which they engage, the schools to which they apply, the topics on which they will write their college essays. Private college counseling is no different than what a high school counselor does, except as a private counselor, you can have much, much more frequent and targeted one-on-one sessions with students, and tailor your approach accordingly. High school college counselors are stretched very thin and also have to deal with red tape. For this reason, it has become increasingly popular for people to use private college counselors. If there weren’t such a dire need for my services, I would be out of a job! But as it is, my phone is ringing off the hook!
2. How has the application process changed? How do you and your business plan to address these changes?
In the almost thirty years I’ve been working in college counseling, the application process has gotten more and more complicated. Take the UC’s for example. For the last eighteen years or so, there were two questions required to fulfill the UC Personal Statement. Now there are eight questions, of which students must choose four. There used to be only the Common App. Now there is the Coalition App and the Universal College Application. When I was a student, you took the SAT’s once. You didn’t prepare in advance. You just took it. Now you must choose between the SAT and the ACT. And then there’s the SAT 2 Subject Tests! It has become a great challenge to navigate the college application process. Even experts like myself have to work hard to keep up with the changes so we can advise our students accordingly.
3. At what age or grade do you recommend students start to work towards their applications and college goals?
Believe it or not, I sometimes see students in 8th grade. Once I even saw a 5th grader!! (That’s a little too early 😉 But I would say it’s most beneficial to meet with a college counselor at least once in freshman year and once in sophomore year, early in each of those years. And then it’s a good idea to make a concrete plan for SAT/ACT prep and begin that prep at the end of sophomore year or in the summer between 10th and 11th grades. The earlier you start, the better chance you have of taking the right courses, signing up for the right extracurriculars, and finding out about summer programs and internships that might interest you. When I meet a student in 11th grade, I often say, “I wish I met you a year ago!” Start early! It will make all the difference in the world.
4. What do students need from your services that they are unable to get from their counselors at school?
I answered this in a general way in question 1. But more specifically, I can’t imagine students could find someone better to work with on college essays 😉 I literally wrote the book on it –– The Art of the College Essay! And it’s a bestseller. College essays are my area of absolute expertise. I even train teachers in the methods I use to help students optimize their chances of getting into the schools of their dreams. So there’s that. In addition, because I’m not wedded to any one institution, I have a lot more flexibility. I’m not grooming higher achieving students to get into Princeton, Stanford, etc and discouraging the others. I can help every student find the path that is right for them, and then pull out all stops to get them into the school(s) of their dreams. I’m not overworked. I love what I do. And I have been extremely successful. Almost everyone I work with gets into their top school — and takes a deep and beautiful journey to get there. Does that answer your question? 😉
5. Have you noticed an increase in students using counseling services in recent years? How is the business of college counseling growing?
As I mentioned, I am incredibly busy. There is a HUGE need for my services. Students have no idea how to write their essays. They are filled with anxiety and stress. And they don’t know where to turn. A big part of my job is helping them calm down, find their stories and write winning essays that will get them in.
6. What expectations do you want people to have when beginning to use consulting services?
I always tell parents and students that though I cannot guarantee acceptance 100% of the time (only about 94%), I can guarantee that when they press send, students and parents alike will be super confident in their applications and essays, that in fact, they will know in their hearts they could not, under any circumstances, have done better if they tried. That’s a good feeling. The rest we leave up to the gods!